Constance Schwartz-Morini has spent the last 27 years blazing her own trails.
After joining the NFL as a recent college grad in 1991, she worked her way up the ranks, creating the entertainment marketing department from scratch on a shoestring budget and growing it into one of the company’s most successful divisions.
She later transitioned to a talent management firm, where she launched a marketing and sponsorship division and oversaw Snoop Dogg’s career before branching out on her own. In 2010, she co-founded branding company, SMAC Entertainment (short for sports, music and cinema), which reps clients like Erin Andrews, Wiz Khalifa and her business partner Michael Strahan. “We both have the same mantra: Hustle like you’re broke and stay true to your word,” Schwartz-Morini says.
We talked to Schwartz-Morini about making her mark on a male-dominated industry, the money rules she lives by—and her greatest investment.
How’d you get your start in the sports industry?
A headhunter told me about a position in the corporate sponsorship department in the NFL. I’ve always been a sports fan, and it clicked.
This was in the dark ages before the Internet, so I pulled a report from a research firm and looked up everything from when NFL Properties was formed to the difference between [the merchandising and licensing branch] versus the league office. When I went in to meet with HR, I rattled off all this research. The [hiring manager] said he’d never interviewed an assistant who was so prepared.
What were some challenges and advantages of being a woman in sports?
The [main] challenge was what a lot of young women still face: guys getting brought in above me because they had connections. That happened three times. Instead of quitting or giving up, I worked 10 times harder. It put the battery in my back.
One advantage is that it seems easier for a woman to approach players and ask them to sign extra helmets, or remind them the night before a golf tournament that tee time is 6 a.m. and they’d better be up. It’s not always as well-received from a guy.
What can men do to make the workplace more hospitable to women—especially in businesses with a “boys club” vibe, like sports and entertainment?
Be inclusive. When I worked at the NFL in my mid-20s, a bunch of players encouraged me to learn to golf. They said it would be the best thing I could do for my career. One guy got me my first clubs; another invited me to play in a tournament. Once I was playing in a Pro Bowl tournament with Jim Kelly, the quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, and two sponsors. I heard the sponsors whisper to Jim, ‘Ugh, we got stuck with the girl.’ Jim had played with me before, so he started laughing as I proceeded to outdrive them all and ended up carrying our foursome. I am so appreciative of these wonderful NFL players because they helped lessen my fears of being a woman in a man’s world.
My experience at the NFL set me up to be Snoop’s manager. I wasn’t intimidated by him. I showed respect, but never backed down from a conversation. Now, he tells people, ‘She’s the most gangsta person you’ll ever meet. She never gets scared.’
As a branding expert, do you have any tips on how people can cultivate their own brand to enhance their career and hireability?
We’re too caught up on the word ‘brand’ right now; I don’t think everyone is a brand. It’s more about finding your strengths and playing them up to the best of your ability.
The key is to be authentic. When I was in my early 20s, I went out of my way to wear preppy clothes that weren’t me. I didn’t want to be mistaken for somebody’s girlfriend or a cheerleader. I wanted people to see me as a hard-working employee and take me seriously. It wasn’t until I found success and more self-confidence that I started rocking jeans instead of khakis.
From your experience working with famous athletes and musicians, how do they approach money differently than the average person?
We just shot a pilot called ‘Back in the Game,’ with Alex Rodriguez as the host, about helping athletes who lost money get a job or get their money back. What’s different about them compared to the average person is that they have a lot of family who depend on them, and it becomes a challenge to cut them off. They also get asked to invest in some of the kookiest things. Michael [Strahan] was asked to invest in a cherry farm his second year in the league.
What money rules do you live by now?
It’s very basic! When I got my first job, my uncle Frank told me to [work toward maxing] out my 401(k). I told him I couldn’t because I was only making $20,000 a year. He said, ‘You won’t even feel it because it’s pre-tax money.’ That was the best advice I got.
I also work hard not to carry credit card debt. I only have one or two personal cards, and no department store cards. I pay off my card every month.
What was the biggest financial mistake you made?
Not buying an apartment in New York City in my 20s, and not buying a house in Sag Harbor in my mid-20s with my girlfriends that my friend’s dad was selling for $300,000. Now that property is worth $8 million.
Best financial decision?
I learned my lesson, and when I moved to L.A. I bought a condo at the beach in 2003. As of last year, its value had doubled.
What do you consider your best investment?
Michael and I invest our time, experience and knowledge into teaching the [young staffers] at SMAC the ropes. I would like them to take bigger, stronger roles so I can take more time off down the road.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
January 16, 2018